I've been noticing a pattern in what a lot of my Christian friends post on Facebook lately and it goes something along the lines of: not getting caught up in "too much doctrine" and forgetting to love others/how much of God is seen in your own life being the more important thing. I'm not too sure if these folks are blasting this on their personal timelines as a reminder to themselves or if they're trying to convict other people they deem to be committing this mistake. But one thing is for sure, these posts are definitely meant to reach a certain kind of audience, one that includes many Bible buffs, "theology nerds" and others of that sort.
Now, hear me out. This isn't a rant - to some degree, I actually agree with you. I do believe that there is a danger of falling in love with knowledge to the point wherein it takes your life captive and you begin to forsake all else (including your responsibilities) as you pursue it. This kind of knowledge, the human kind, is flawed especially when not gained through the measures of godly love.
But, dear Christians, that should not make us fear or despise knowledge. It should not make us have a distaste for doctrine or theology. Because while it is true that it's not about how much of it you know, that doesn't mean that we are without excuse in pursuing a deeper understanding of truth. The reality is that doctrine, theology and Scripture are essential to the Christian life. These things are what shapes our beliefs and convictions. When we say we believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is doctrine. When we believe that Scripture is final, without error and full of authority - that too is doctrine. When we do our quiet times or devotionals, when we sit in church and listen to a sermon, and when we have accountability with people we walk with in the Lord and spur one another to pursue righteousness, we practice theology because it is the study of God and everything about Him.
So these things DO really matter, not in volume of what we know, but in depth of our appreciation and understanding. These things begets practice.
I think the problem lies in our misunderstanding of our purpose and our need as believers. For some reason, over the years we have been convinced that our greatest purpose and our greatest need as Christians is to love and be loved. After all, God is a god of love, yes? In turn we've embraced this sort of superficial pragmatism that all Christians must be accepting and loving and kind to all kinds of people. And because this has become expected of us, many Christians and churches alike have done away with sound, biblical teaching and filled the pulpits with messages of love, motivation, and "God has a wonderful plan for your life". Believers who are more "active" and seen doing good in the world are applauded over the ones who spend their days meditating and memorizing Scripture. The Marthas of this world scoff and complain about the Marys who would rather sit at the Lord's feet and listen to Him than be busy with doing work.
We must be careful and not be so quick to claim that love is the most important thing about being a believer. For if our evidence of faith were measured by love and charity, there are far too many non-profit orgs and volunteer outreach groups who would put us to shame than we care to admit. A Christian is not marked by how much they love, but by their repentance and obedience. It is Scripture that defines us and sets us apart from every other person, institution and religion in this world that is also out there for goodwill because Scripture teaches us how to obey. You do not become more spiritual by any other way.
I love how Kevin de Young puts it: "Only by the Spirit working through the Word can we truly become spiritual. The spiritual person understands spiritual truths (1 Corinth 2:13), whereas the natural person does not accept the things of God, "for they are folly to him" (v. 14)."
|(Image by Tim Challies)|
Think about it: some of the most influential men and women in the faith were not the ones who complained about "getting too caught up in knowledge or doctrine or theology" over service or loving others. Yesterday at church, in studying the book of Ephesians, we learned that for centuries, believers have gotten the order all wrong and we still do today - we never earn God's righteousness by what we do, rather what we do is motivated by God's righteousness. Mary's story didn't end with her simply sitting at the Lord's feet. She watched Jesus display his glory (by no less than raising her brother from the dead), which then prompted her to worship. The very reason we are called Protestants today is BECAUSE people took the time to study Scripture, translate Scripture, expose Scripture, understand Scripture, share Scripture, even memorize Scripture. They were so caught up with it that they were willing to die for it. It was BECAUSE they spent time understanding Scripture and the nature of God that they were compelled to move and work. And so in the words of Adam Ford, "I have found no more potent fuel for action than robust theological study." (Adam4d.com)
I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone or pit one believer against another. Quite the opposite. More than anything, I pray we'd realize that we need each other to remind ourselves of the gospel in its entirety. The Mary's would remind us that "It is God who works in you on behalf of His good pleasure" and it is the Martha's who remind us that "It is God who works in you to will and to act" (Phil 2:13) - these things are not divorced. God's sovereignty needs no reconciliation with man's responsibility, because as Charles Spurgeon would put it, "You don't need to reconcile friends."
This is my appeal; that we must continue growing both in wisdom and grace. So to those who would rather spend time immersed in Bible study and discussing your fresh revelation and newfound convictions, I say to you - keep on, but let your love for the Word spring you into obedience. And to those who are more of workers and doers, I say to you - keep on, but let your love for others stem from your love and obedience to God's Word. Devotion must be driven by doctrine otherwise all we have will be sentimentalism and emotional fluff, and our Doctrine must stir our affections for deeper devotion lest we become arrogant and hardhearted.